A partnership forged between a Port Stephens marine rescue centre and some of the area's commercial fishermen is giving injured and damaged sea creatures a second chance at life.
The revamped and re-named Shark and Ray Rescue Centre in Bobs Farm has adopted a new model at the popular 13 year old Marsh Road site - one of rescue and rehabilitation.
Owner Andrew Tindale said that the venture's new mission was already paying off and providing popular with visitors, with the arrival this month of 15 healthy baby estuary rays, which are thriving in their environmentally-friendly enclosure.
"We work with local commercial fishers to help save injured and damaged sharks and rays which sometimes get caught in fishing nets. Once released they would find it difficult to survive in the wild so we take them on and help rehabilitate them," Mr Tindale said.
"Just last week with the help of local fishermen we saved two male and one female estuary ray. A common stingaree which had accidentally been injured was also taken into care.
"We will also rescue species of sharks and rays, which would otherwise end up at the fish markets or as pet food."
One of the many pleasures for staff of operating the rescue centre since its reopening five months ago was the unexpected recent arrival of some new-borns.
"Whilst one of our female estuary rays was being treated and cared for, it fell pregnant and a little over a week ago gave birth to 15 healthy baby stingrays. Just a week prior a female common stingaree gave birth to one tiny dude only twice the size of a 50 cent piece.
"That takes our total number to nearly 150 sharks and rays that have been rescued since our re-opening in October."
The species of sharks and rays at the centre varies but the species most commonly saved include the bluespotted eagle, shovelnose and smooth rays, Port Jackson and gummy sharks, plus Australian stingarees, clownfish, octupus and longfinned eels.
"Visitors have the choice of staying dry and feeding the sharks and rays from the side, or hanging out with them in the water. Our sharks and rays are very friendly and gentle. Many of them are juveniles so won't be mistaking your arms and legs for food any time soon."
People can pre-book their shark and ray feeding experience or purchase shark and ray food for just $5 at the door.
Mr Tindale said that a new membership initiative for Port Stephens residents was delivering huge savings on entry fees for local visitors.
He said that residents of Port Stephens who pay for one entry (adults $20, children aged 3-12 $15) would receive unlimited free entry until June 30, 2021.
"This deal will start again for a full 12 months starting from July 1, where a one-off entry payment will give the membership holder unlimited entry to the centre until June 30, 2022."
The centre is kid friendly, entirely under cover and gives visitors the opportunity to wet their feet while feeding the huge array of under water animals. For information go to sharkray.com.au.
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